All-America Economic Survey

Being poor not a person's fault: CNBC survey

As the nation engages in a heated debate over inequalities' causes and cures, the latest CNBC All-America Economic Survey finds a majority of Americans believe people are poor because of circumstances outside their control but are split on whether the wealthy have earned their riches.

The survey of 800 Americans across the country finds the data driven by sharply differing views among the political parties about the reasons for wealth and poverty. Nearly 60 percent of Republicans believe poverty is the result of decisions individuals have taken, compared with 24 percent of Democrats. Almost 70 percent of Republicans think people are wealthy because of their own actions, compared with just 33 percent of Democrats. Independents are much closer to Democrats than Republicans on both issues.

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Overall, the survey found, 53 percent of Americans believe people are most likely poor because of "the place or family they were born into, or circumstances beyond their control." Just 36 percent say people are living in poverty because of their own actions or decisions. But just 45 percent say the wealthy have achieved their success because of their own actions and 43 percent say it's because of circumstances outside their own control.

In addition to asking respondents to choose whether wealth and poverty were caused primarily by circumstance or a person's own action, CNBC also asked for a more detailed response: whether poverty and wealth resulted from work ethic, circumstance, education or luck. The detailed answers show some conflict with the broader question.

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When it comes to work ethic, 58 percent of Republicans believe that Americans are wealthy because of hard work compared with just 22 percent of Democrats. But only 37 percent of Republicans believe that Americans are poor due lack of hard work compared to 13 percent of Democrats.

About a third of both Republicans and Democrats view poverty resulting from "poor education"—the one area where the two parties come together. Meanwhile, 29 percent of Democrats see wealth resulting from a good education, compared with just 17 percent of Republicans.

The survey was conducted March 13-16 by Hart-McInturff, Democratic and Republican pollsters. It had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

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In other findings:

Americans by a 2-to-1 margin favor increasing the minimum wage to $10.10, with a big jump in those who strongly favor the move.

By 47-40 percent, Americans believe it is more significant that raising the minimum wage will potentially reduce poverty than it will potentially cost jobs.

Support for Obamacare grew 5 points compared to the December survey, but it remains at just 31 percent, with 14 percent neutral and 44 percent with negative views.

Fifty-six percent of Americans wouldn't mind an establishment selling marijuana in their town, but only 48 percent support one opening in their neighborhood. Only around a third of Americans would invest or work in a business that sells or grows pot.